Science centers are not museums in the traditional sense. They provide their visitors with experimentation stations that enable an active, hands-on engagement with natural phenomena. Visitors can discover phenomena and understand technical connections by making different sensory experiences while viewing and interacting with the exhibits.
But how does this discovery of the laws of nature through sensory experiences of natural phenomena actually work? This is a question we wish to answer within this project. To be precise, we investigate how visitors to the Swiss Science Center Technorama located in Winterthur, Switzerland, explore and use exhibits in small groups and how they share their discoveries and experiences. In order to do so, we collected a corpus of more than 35 hours of video and (partially) eye-tracking data of naturally occurring visitor interactions in the Technorama. This data was later synchronized, put into clips of up to 4 simultaneous video and eye-tracking streams, and transcribed. Based on this data set, we investigate not only visitors' verbal contributions but also the methods developed in multimodally enhanced conversation analysis, multimodal interaction analysis, and in workplace studies to examine the intricate ways different modalities such as speech, gestures, gaze, body positions, and the way exhibits are manipulated, are used in conjunction during visitors' interactions. In addition, we want to bring these analyses into dialogue with research from other fields, such as distributed cognition, visitor studies, and museum didactics.
The project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and led by Wolfgang Kesselheim (University of Zurich). We collaborate closely with Barbara Neff (Swiss Science Center Technorama; head of the exhibition) and Armin Duff (Swiss Science Center Technorama; head of didactics). “Interactive Discoveries” also houses two PhD projects by Christina Brandenberger and Christoph Hottiger.